Machu Picchu itself is reason enough to spend some time exploring Peru, but we had another more personal reason for some of our explorations in Cusco and Lima. Dad’s sister, Nancy Oaks, spent the summer before her senior year of high school in Peru for a cultural exchange. On August 9, 1970, the flight she was on from Cusco to Lima crashed just outside of Cusco shortly after takeoff killing all on board except for the co-pilot.
Growing up, I remember my family occasionally spoke of Nancy. While I imagine this was a profound tragedy in their lives, I also could appreciate that they had moved past her death, celebrated her life, and not allowed it to hold back their lives. For me, it’s always been a bit hard to grasp that had she lived, there would have been another sibling of Dad’s at our family gatherings and, likely, more cousins. As we planned our time in Peru, I knew this would be an opportunity to find a connection to a family member I was never able to meet.
We had three goals in this search for family connection. The first was to find the location of a photograph of Nancy while she was visiting Sacsayhuaman. Sacsayhuaman is a huge citadel in Cusco built by the Incas and known for the intricate interlocking stones that are typical of Inca construction. The rocks at Sacsayhuaman are huge and it’s incredible to think about what contruction of this place must have been like. In addition to being gigantic, each stone is also very unique. This made our search easier, but not quick, as the location of the rocks in Nancy’s picture was the last section of the site we looked at.
The second goal was to find the memorial to the victims of the 1970 crash. My parents had visited Cusco 10 years ago and found the memorial with help of the local police chief, who had been the first to the site of plane crash. In the years since they visited the memorial, it had been moved due to construction in the area. There was no real information on the internet about where it had been relocated and the one other account I could find of someone looking for and finding the memorial didn’t reveal much about the location. Embracing an adventure, we jumped on a local bus to the San Jeronimo area ready to use our limited Spanish to locate the memorial. With my parents success talking to the police, we tried the police station first. Unfortunately the person we spoke with didn’t know about it and suggested we go to the airport. Since she was our age, I realized we probably needed to find someone who was alive during the plane crash. After walking for a bit, we passed a man who looked over 45 and stopped and asked him. He knew of the crash and pointed us up the hill and said it was close to the square. We headed towards the square and found a man sitting on a bench in the shade of a tree. He too knew of the crash and pointed us further up the hill.
A few more people pointed us along our way until we found ourselves on a dirt road heading up the hill and in to a slightly more rural (ie. newly settled) area. There was a woman standing outside one of the houses and Danielle asked her “Hola! Estoy buscando para un memorial de accidente de avion. El accidente hace cuarenta-cinco anos.” She nodded that she knew of the crash and the memorial. It was up a bit further, but she said to wait and she would get her “padrino” since he would know more. A man came out with her and explained where the site was and after a minute suggested we jump in his truck and he would drive us. It was a very short drive, but we were thankful for their generosity and for the few minutes they talked about the crash. He stopped in front of one lot and we could see a stone cross in down a path next to a small house. Thanking them profusely, we waved good-bye and headed to look at the memorial.
The memorial stood in the corner of the lot, next to a small wood house. Chickens, guinea pigs, and cats roamed the yard where grass and weeds grew liberally. This was not a well manicured plot reserved for those coming to pay respects or to meditate on the past. There were no benches or stone paths or fish ponds. What we found was a memorial to a tragic memory nestled next to the home of a family who likely lives a challenging life. I’m always a bit curious about the way we spend so much time, energy, and money honoring and remember the past and often neglect to focus on those living. This was a stark reminder that in the midst of our search for a bit of family history we should not get lost in the past, but continue to live our lives loving and caring for those around us. Even in the midst of the bramble, animals, trash, and old gas pumps in the yard, there was still tenderness and respect as a light piece of linen was draped over the cross.
With two of our goals accomplished, we enjoyed the rest of our time in Cusco before flying to Lima. Our final goal was to connect with an family friend of my great-aunt Tilly, Dr. Rebecca Kunyoshi, who Nancy had stayed with before she headed to Cusco. My parents had received a Christmas card from her in December, but had not been able to get in contact with her to let her know we would be in the area. The address my parents had for her was only a few blocks from where we were staying in Lima, so I went over one afternoon and rang the doorbell. There was no answer, but the next morning Danielle and I strolled over and tried again. This time the door was answered and we met the woman who had hosted Nancy 45 years before. As she was not expecting us, we didn’t stay for long, but we did get to sit and chat for 15 minutes. It was a pretty amazing to spend time with someone who I’ve never met, but has long had a strong connection to my family.
It’s a unique enough adventure to go to Cusco and Lima, but even more so to be able to be there and have a feeling of connection to my family history. I’m so thankful for all of those that pointed us along our way to these special places.
Finding the Memorial
While I enjoyed the adventure of discovering the site of the memorial, I do think others may appreciate a bit of help in the exact location. The coordinates of the memorial are -13.538838, -71.879042 and these two maps may be helpful for those interested in where it is generally in Cusco.
16 thoughts on “Family History in Peru”
This was such a moving story. I had no idea an accident of this magnitude had taken place in Cusco. I can’t help but imagine how the lives of the people that died in the crash would have been like now. Next time I go back to Cusco, I will make sure to visit the cross and leave some flowers on the memorial.
Great info, Thank you, I hope to visit the cross soon.
My brother Philip Simons was one of the students killed in the plane crash. Although we went on, it was a significant event in our family. My parents grieved for a long time, to some extent for the rest of their lives really. Later my father wrote a book that talked about God being a comfort to him during that time of loss. My parents made at least 3 trips to Peru, getting to know some of the people Philip had met. I don’t know if I ever will go to Peru, but if I do, I want to find that memorial.
I read that in 2010 Senator Chuck Schumer had the memorial moved to a nicer place , since where it first stood had new development around.
Thank you so much for sharing these photos and information. My high school boyfriend was killed in that accident. He had gone to Peru and I had come to Japan, where I heard about his death and where I still live now 47 years later. Although I am unable to visit Peru and the sites you shared, it was a gift for me to read your experiences and to see your photos. Thank you again, and blessings on all who lost loved ones in that accident.
My sister Jerilyn Feldman, was killed at 16 in that plane crash. Our entire family was utterly devastated. It broke my parents. They were never the same again. I was very close to Jerilyn, and loved her dearly. I miss her to this day, even 47 years later. Steve Feldman
Thank you so much for this article and the photos! I can read my sister’s name below the cross: Vicki L. Ashmore. In 2015 the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published my personal journey about Vicki’s death: http://specials.myajc.com/missing-vicki/
What a wonderful adventure you had! I enjoyed reading all your posts on this site.
Thank you for sharing information about this memorial site. My uncle was on the flight. I visited the site earlier this month and can confirm the memorial is still at the coordinates you have listed. The road leading up to the memorial has been paved and they have since built a portico over the cross.
One of the young students that perished on the flight was Jennifer Blank. She was my next door neighbor. I was only 8 years old at the time and really did not fully understand what happened. Jennifer was a beautiful young girl that was very smart and would have made the world a better place. I never knew a memorial was erected. Thank you to the people that made and continue to maintain the memorial. Please keep praying for the souls of those that were lost.
Thank you so much for sharing.
My mom’s sister (Cecilia Fletcher) and mother (Carmen de Fletcher) were in the plane too. We are peruvians. Now I am living in Spain, but when I go back to Lima I will show my mom the pictures of the memorial.
Your mother survived the crash?
It was very thoughtful of you to post this story. I recently thought of Mary Beth Kinsock, who was a classmate of mine through much of grade school and high school. Mary Beth was always upbeat, kind, genuine, self-effacing and bright. A very special soul. When this news came out, it was absolute disbelief. As a father and grandfather now, I cannot fathom how crushing it was for the families to lose their children like this. Its unimaginable. I only hope that each of these kids are reunited with their parents in the next life.
Thank You so much for all your information. Many have visited the Memorial but left no info on how to find it. My brother Kim Miller was killed in this tragic accident. We were only 18 months apart in age and very close he is always in my thoughts t o this day. i hope to be able to make it to Peru in the very near future and your coordinates will help me so much. Very sorry for your families loss.
Thank you for sharing this story. My sister Laurie Leafgreen also perished in the plane crash. My brother and I were blessed to travel to Lima and Cuzco in 1996. It was the biggest adventure of my life! At that time the memorial was still in an open field and nearby I found a small pile of rubble from the accident There were remnants of plastic and metal from the plane and even a small child’s shoe. It was incredibly sad! But a small bush with tiny yellow flowers was blooming in the middle of it. From death comes life.
Nancy Oaks was our baby sitter in North Rose, NY. We were still young when she died in this crash, and I had frightening thoughts of this event for several years. We all loved Nancy and thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world. This was an immense loss in our small farming community, a tragedy that we never could fully understand. I am so thankful to see Nancy with a smile on her face while she was in Peru in 1970 and I hope that she is thinking of us and smiling from heaven.
My boyfriend Gary Michaels was killed in this crash. This loss had a profound effect on me. I hope to one day visit this memorial.